The opportunity to market yourself as the best of the best can have a significant impact on your business. Here’s a checklist on how to write an award-winning submission.
They might look shiny on a mantle or impressive on the wall but awards are much more than window dressing. Awards programs can provide bottom-line benefits for individual businesses as well as a boost for the industry as a whole.
For financial services – which often gets more than its fair share of bad publicity – awards programs are particularly important. As JBS Financial Strategists director and 2013 AFA Adviser of the Year Jenny Brown tells ifa, on a macro level, awards often act as a pep talk for the industry.
“I think it helps showcase the really good work that advisers do,” Ms Brown says.
“By having awards – as long as it is a rigorous process around them – [it] gives encouragement to people who are doing a really good job.”
FPA general manager, member growth and marketing Tom Reddacliff says that industry awards showcase the importance of the work that financial advisers do to clients, which can often promote the uptake of advice.
“We are facing a time when the financial advice industry has been under tight scrutiny and it seems there is always a new story in the media,” Mr Reddacliff says.
“Now more than ever, it is vital to stop and take the time to gather feedback and undertake a self-assessment of the impact that financial planners are having, not only in their clients’ lives, but within the industry and throughout the community as a whole.”
While awards might lift morale through the industry, there is just as much to gain for the individual advisers if they don’t take home the winning trophy. ifa asked the experts for their tips on how to apply and get the most out of the process.
Business health check
Sifting through the pages of an award application is no easy feat, so why should advisers rearrange their schedules and make time for awards?
Ms Brown has been through the AFA awards process twice – as a finalist in 2012 and as a winner in 2013. She says what she learnt from each process and the improvements she made to her business as a result of not winning the first time around are some of the highlights of the entire experience.
“It’s interesting because it was a learning curve and what I’ve done by going through that and involving the whole of the practice as well has made JBS a better place, and a better practice,” Ms Brown says.
“It’s a great process where you can reflect on what you do well and then enhance what you do well and fix what you don’t necessarily do well.”
Aspire Retire Financial Services co-founder and 2012 AFA Adviser of the Year Olivia Maragna says that for advisers applying for awards, it’s important to treat the application process as a “business health check”.
“I think that the important thing for businesses to understand is that you will always be better off or you will always gain invaluable knowledge just by going through the process of entering awards,” Ms Maragna says.
“You gain from the process and not the outcome.”
The fine print
When it comes to applying for awards it’s important that advisers take their own advice and read the fine print carefully.
As ifa publisher Russell Stephenson says, making sure you hit all the points in the criteria is your best chance of making an impact.
“That includes making sure you stick to the criteria – judges are given specific marking sheets, so the closer you stick to the criteria the easier it is for judges to score highly,” he says.
Mr Stephenson says it’s important to remember that the criteria includes using supporting documents wisely.
“Only use supporting evidence that directly relates to the question and has been explicitly referenced when answering,” he advises.
Ms Brown found that looking at the criteria closely gave her an edge with her 2013 application.
She says after being a finalist in 2012, she looked to improve any parts of her business that had not received a “10 out of 10” during the judging process, to ensure her business was in tip-top shape.
While making her practice the best it could be was her ultimate goal, winning the award in 2013 was the icing on the cake.
“The application [in 2013] was not dissimilar but I made sure that what I put in, I hadn’t put in to 2012,” Ms Brown says.
“I guess the start of winning the 2013 [award] was not winning in 2012.”
Give yourself time
Applying for an industry award is a long process, and Ms Maragna’s advice is to not assume you can do it all in one sitting, especially if you’re looking to hand in a winning submission.
She says writing an awards application can be a massive commitment, which for time-poor advisers is a difficult undertaking.
“I put aside a lot of time because I never do anything half-heartedly,” Ms Maragna says.
“Take the time, go through the process and make sure you feel you’re in a position where you have the capacity to actually enter the awards.
“If you do a half job of it, you’re not really going to gain the full benefit of actually going through the process.”
Keep it simple
While awards submissions are all about aiming to impress, Mr Stephenson stresses the importance of the KISS – the principle of ‘keeping it simple’.
“Using the criteria/questions set out in your submission documents as headings is a great way to structure your submission to ensure judges can clearly and easily mark each question,” he says.
Ms Maragna says keeping things simple is the best way to ensure the judging panel gets to know you personally.
“I think the important thing people should do when they enter awards is just be themselves,” she says.
Speaking about the FPA’s award process specifically, Mr Reddacliff says that advisers need to be able to demonstrate the tangible results they have delivered to their clients but more importantly, let their personality shine through.
“In assessing the application we look for honesty, transparency and the recognition of financial planners who have made a genuine difference,” Mr Reddacliff says.
“Seek feedback from others – your clients, your staff and your business partners. Be reflective, be yourself, tell your story succinctly and clearly.”
Give it a go
While it’s important to have your application in check, Ms Maragna emphasises that all the tips in the world won’t help without the ‘get up’ to give it a go.
She says given what she has learnt through the submission process, “it’s certainly something I’d encourage other businesses to do”.
Ms Brown says often advisers don’t apply for awards as they don’t feel like they measure up.
“Often we don’t put our hands up and say ‘We’re good enough to do that’,” she says. “I’d encourage everyone to go for it.”
A benefit that both Ms Brown and Ms Maragna also agree on has been the improvement in their “reach” since receiving their respective awards. Ms Brown says that with the aid of digital media, her award win has boosted her profile with her clients, with prospective employees, and it has increased her business referrals.
“Business coaches [have] referred clients to me, people they’ve met on airplanes etc,” Ms Brown says.
“I also get referrals from advisers interstate because a client wants to have an adviser in Melbourne.
“So my advice is go for it, because even if you don’t win, the journey and the experience you have along the way really do help take you to that next goal.”
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